Women in Dentistry panelist speaker at University of Sydney
When I reflect on my own orthodontic career, and of the effect that my work has on others, I cannot look beyond the word ‘empower’. By transforming people’s smiles, we empower them with the confidence to change their lives, and by pursuing excellence in our field, we too become empowered.
Allow me to elaborate. For me, empowerment is the result of three keys components in my life and my career: passion, purpose and pleasure.
Many people struggle to find something that they are passionate about in their careers and in their lives. For me, my passion for dental and orthodontic work has always been unquestionable – it feels like it has always been there! But what exactly constitutes ‘passion’? I found a simple formula, which upon reflection accurately represents my own experience: ‘interest plus engagement = passion’.
Firstly, I’m interested in every aspect of orthodontics, from the technical and physiological, through to the incredibly emotional impact the process can have on people. And secondly, I’m hugely engaged in it – to the degree that in addition to practicing orthodontics, I also conduct research, read and watch everything I can, and share my experience and insights with fellow dental professionals through orthodontics skills courses that my training company, BOSS – Best Orthodontic Seminars and Sessions – delivers to dentists.
Of course, passion on its own isn’t enough to create a successful career – the path to success is littered with challenges, and it takes a lot of hard work and resourcefulness to navigate. After working as a general dentist for 9 years, my passion for helping patients smile more confidently led me to do every course, seminar and residency that I could in order to start managing orthodontic cases. After doing so for a while though, I began to realise my shortcomings and that the training I’d done hadn’t equipped me to work at the high level I expected of myself.
After going down many frustrating dead-ends in my search for help and guidance, I made one of the most important moves of my career when I contacted my local orthodontist. I’d been warned off of such a move by many people who’d told me how fruitless it would be, but I was incredibly fortunate that the orthodontist I connected with not only shared his time and experience, but also employed me and enabled me to perform orthodontics as a general dentist under his supervision.
This on-the-job, patient-focused learning was a revelation and transformed the way I looked not only at patients and orthodontics, but at myself and my career aspirations. Knowing I would sacrifice my flourishing dental career, I decided to specialise in Orthodontics, and returned to university studies. In 2013 I proudly graduated with my Orthodontics degree.
Since then I have been passionate about creating orthodontics skills courses for dentists that mirror the positive experience I had doing my degree. This has culminated in my training company’s innovative Postgraduate Diploma in Digital Orthodontics. Last year, this became the first 12-month orthodontic course in Australia to be approved by the UK awarding body, and I became the first female orthodontist in the world to receive this accreditation. If I hadn’t had the passion that I have for my work, I could never have achieved this.
The second key ingredient for empowerment, to my mind, is a true sense of purpose. I’m sure that many of you are familiar with the work of Simon Sinek, who asks us to ‘Start with why?’. Only by unearthing our deepest motivations can we establish the foundations for growing a successful practice and career.
When we look at purpose and our ‘why’, we are looking beyond the financial. Yes, we all want to make a good living, but if money is your only motivator then your success will be limited.
Personally, it was never about the dollars for me: I pursued orthodontics because I wanted to help people live better lives by feeling more confident about themselves.
Like most people, I have always been drawn to a beautiful smile. The warmth and confidence that a smile exudes is the starting point of every human interaction. Humans are attracted to smiles, so those who do so with confidence immediately have an advantage over others in any situation – before they have even uttered a word or performed any other action that might ingratiate themselves to you. Even as a child I recall being fascinated by this: I loved to laugh and smile and to be around others that did as well. As I grew older and experienced dental work myself, I realised that I could help people develop these smiles and confidence by becoming first a dentist and then later, as I just recounted, an orthodontist.
I’m a ‘people person’ and I genuinely love working closely with people and, most of all, improving their lives. As you know, not many professions get more up close and personal than putting your hands inside people’s mouths, so I think that being comfortable in such situations is a really essential trait for a successful dental professional! Like many areas, orthodontics may have a long history as a male dominated profession, but I believe that females in the field often possess the qualities necessary to establish strong relationships with patients, build trust and reassurance, put them at ease and facilitate the best outcomes.
If ever I’m having a bad day or considering my next career steps, I go back to my ‘why’ – to improve people’s confidence, happiness and lives. For me, this is a truly worthwhile purpose – and one which is perhaps best illustrated in our support of Smile Train, a remarkable charity that trains medical practitioners in developing countries to perform cleft palate repair procedures. Every time one of our clients refers a friend or family member that goes on to have treatment with us, we donate the cost of a life-changing surgery for a child in need of cleft palate correction. For these kids, the difference to their life opportunities and outcomes is almost beyond comprehension – opening the doors to education, employment and social acceptance. Purpose doesn’t get much clearer than this.
And finally, to pleasure. This may seem like an unusual choice for an element of empowerment, but unless you can take time to look after your own needs and find joy in your life, you will never be truly empowered. After all, where’s the power in neglecting your own self-care and feeling burnt out?
As dental professionals, our work can be physically, mentally and emotionally demanding. When the pressures of children and family life compound this career stress, it can become overwhelming if we don’t make time to look after our minds and our bodies. It may be 2019, but the truth is that women often still shoulder the lion’s share of responsibility for domestic chores and admin, in addition to working full-time, highly demanding jobs.
In such busy schedules, many women struggle to take care of their own needs, and experience feelings of guilt if they do take time to look after themselves. This needs to change. For long term success and happiness in your life, it is critical to care for yourself every day by nourishing your body with good food, by moving your body – whether it be a pre-work exercise class or a simple lunchtime stroll, by calming your crowded thoughts through a yoga class or even a quick daily meditation, and by consciously creating social occasions with friends and family that have nothing to do with your work.
I know only too well that when I neglect my own wellbeing, it will have a negative ripple effect into every area of my life and work. As such, I make one of my passions, travel, a priority. After a trip to the Greek island of Ikaria, known as ‘the island of long life’, I became a convert to the ‘Blue Zone’ way of eating. The ‘Blue Zone’ is a term given to only a handful of places that are home to our planet’s oldest and healthiest residents. The Ikarian locals follow an organic Mediterranean diet made up of foods grown in soil that is naturally high in potassium. We now know that the food we eat affects our mood and brain function. We need the right carbohydrate sources for sustained energy, quality protein for neurotransmitter production and healthy fats for nervous system function. This is why more researchers are calling the gut ‘the second brain’, because it has such a big impact on the way our mind works, and on our happiness levels.
In addition to their eating habits, the Ikarians live simple, active lives on the land, and take time each day to rest, relax and visit friends. As such, they are among the longest-living people on Earth. My time on Ikaria wasn’t only relaxing, it was a learning experience: I came away with the strong belief that a long and happy life is only achievable when we nourish ourselves physically and emotionally.
Only by looking after your own needs will you be able to look after the needs of others, which leads me to the need to also find pleasure in our work. I firmly believe that unless you can enjoy what you do, you cannot do your best work – and if you cannot do your best work, then you are not empowered. Aristotle is credited with saying ‘Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work’ and I couldn’t agree more. For me, my career as a dental professional is a calling, a vocation: it’s so much more than just a job – it’s a defining part of my life. A huge percentage of our waking hours are spent working, so it’s absolutely imperative that we take pleasure in those hours – Life’s too short to be unhappy at work!
There is nothing more rewarding than the feeling of having successfully managed a case using the latest and most advanced techniques. Education and continual upskilling is the key to maintaining this, and to knowing that I am doing everything I can to deliver the best possible experience and outcomes for my patients.
As I mentioned, for me, the people that I get to work with every day are also a source of pleasure. Getting to know patients and their families, and growing a community, not just a client database, has been very important. We aren’t just a business that operates in a community, we are part of the fabric of the community. Whenever possible, we get behind our people, by doing everything from sponsoring local sports teams to supporting youth mentoring initiatives. It’s a scientifically proven fact that helping others not only makes them feel good, but also makes us experience great pleasure– so it genuinely is a win-win!
I feel grateful for the success I have enjoyed in my career, and I also feel empowered by it. With clear purpose, genuine passion, and the pursuit of pleasure in what we do, we can achieve truly great things.